The sexualization of young girls seems to be a disturbing trend in this country, and it leaves me deeply concerned about the types of things that will be marketed to my daughter as she gets older. Sadly, I didn't even have to wait that long to discover inappropriate girls clothing, while searching for my daughter's first bathing suit. I was shocked that a leopard print string bikini was being sold for girls ages ONE through five. When I was a kid, my one piece suits had rainbows and hearts on them. Not that those suits don't still exist, but I found my brow furrowing as I sifted through more and more sexy suits for toddlers. Ultimately, we decided to skip the bathing suit and put her in nothing but an AppleCheeks cloth swim diaper, which some may argue exposes more than a string bikini. However, there are undeniable associations between sex and things like animal prints, string bikinis, fishnet stockings, thigh highs, short skirts/shorts, etc... I would think nothing of seeing a 2 year old wearing only a diaper, or a six year old in a short jumper. Yet I look at most of the young girls I see around my town, and many are wearing shorts that in my day we called "Daisy Dukes," because the super sexy (adult) character on Dukes of Hazzard always wore incredibly short shorts. I suppose when I think of it, there was a trend in the early 80's for short gym shorts with white piping up the side (for both guys and girls), but the socks pulled up to the knees that often accompanied them just doesn't scream "Sex!" to me. It just seems that the clothing currently being offered to tweens and younger has a very different tone than it did back then.
After seeing a photo last Halloween that a friend posted of sexy tween costumes, I decided to fish around and see what's out there. I make my daughter's costumes, as my parents did for me. In 4th grade I was a tree - encased in cardboard that had a bark print on it, with small branches sticking out of my waist. In 5th grade I was a ladybug, with a baby tub covered in red fabric and painted with black dots strapped to my back, and some stuffed black socks dangling from my shirt. Even in junior high I remember Halloween being about fun and creativity - not how sexy I could look. When I searched that night, I found so many appalling costumes, many marketed to girls as young as 4 years old, that are not a far cry from a french maid outfit. This one from Party City, complete with a laced up corset and fishnet stockings, happens to be made for girls as young as 10 years old.
I'm not exactly sure when or how this happened, but I'm so saddened by it all. Clearly these things are being prominently marketed because there must be some parents out there actually buying them. There are so many choices as a parent that while I may not practice them myself, I will happily dismiss as every parent's right to decide. Whatever the case - video games, cell phones, sugary foods...I will usually say "to each his own"....EXCEPT in this instance. Sexualizing young girls is NOT acceptable to me in any way, shape or form, and I will unabashedly declare it.
I would by no means consider myself a conservative, puritanical sort. I'm an atheist who'd like to think that I'm explicitly liberal by nature, and I am perfectly fine with educating children at a young age about sex. Yet the implications of dressing young girls this way infuriates me to the core. There is the obvious reasoning that children do not need any help attracting pedophiles and sexual predators, but there's so much more than that. What sort of message does it send to an 8 year old that it's acceptable to exploit her not yet developed body and show it off? Abercrombie and Fitch came under fire a while back when they introduced a padded bikini for the 7-8 year old set. Just what every girl needs! A complex that their breasts aren't large enough and their body isn't good enough before they even start, much less finish developing! Two years ago parents were livid when JCPenney was selling a shirt that said, "I'm too pretty to do homework, so my brother has to do it for me." How is this any different? I guess it's alright to send your child out into the world wearing shorts that from a distance look like underwear because they don't actually say on them "My mom thinks the only thing that I've got going for me is my body, so I should show it off. Here ya go boys!"
In an age where women are being forced to fight resurfacing battles over reproductive rights, isn't it time we start empowering our daughters to be strong, intelligent women instead of encouraging them to be sexual objects? I know that's what I intend to do with my own daughter, and I can only hope that over the next few years this trend begins to subside, rather than get worse. Sadly, I'm not entirely convinced that will happen.
Amy Serotkin is dedicated to sustainable living and finding ways to eliminate toxins in her home. She is an avid organic gardener and cook, and is always looking for more ways to challenge herself to lessen her family's ecological imprint.
Her website, www.themindfulhome.blogspot.com, shares with consumers the information she's found on toxins and eco friendly products that help eliminate disposables or toxin exposure. She also hopes to highlight smaller retailers, crafters and manufacturers.